I actually agree that Noor Hossain was addicted – not to any drugs, but to the 80s fiery ideals of democracy that plunged Bangladesh into eight long years of turmoil.
Recently, a disparaging comment was made against Noor, who was killed on November 10, 1987 by shots fired by the police while he was protesting the autocratic rule.
That day, Noor had a bold statement written on his chest and back. The front side had the slogan: 'Let democracy be free' and on the back, the line was: 'Down with the autocrat'.
Bold move indeed in a time when the country was in the stranglehold of an authoritarian rule. But sadly, almost 32 years later, there was a comment made to trivialize the man, calling him a drug addict.
To be impartial, we actually did not see Noor taking any drug but for argument’s sake, let’s say that he was taking drugs. Does that change the fact that he gave his life to defend a democratic movement?
Even if he had been a drug addict, the fact that on that day he was on the streets with such an audacious statement gives Noor the ultimate vindication.
But since the issue of Noor Hossain has come up and December 6, the day when the autocracy fell in 1990, is not too far away, perhaps it’s time to clean the years of gunk which had accumulated in the mind, to remember the 80s when almost all of Bangladesh was united against a dictator.
History is a curious matter because once a certain time elapses after an event, there’s always an attempt to either distort parts of it or shrewdly present it in a rejigged form.
In this vile act, many facts are cleverly airbrushed. And lest we forget, human mind forgets fast and so, the truth often fades away and under the barrage of manufactured explanations, the actual events seem like a myth.
The 80s ravaged the education system
The democracy movement of the 80s was against a dictator who had usurped power and like many other political movements of the country where students played a vital role, this period also saw Dhaka University students come out to perform their crusading roles, inspiring students of all other public academic institutions.
While the campus plus the roads were in ferment, education suffered. Well ‘suffer’ is an understatement because, the universities were clogged by session jams as the government closed down academic institutions to stifle the movement for democracy.
Four-year courses took eight years to finish, compounding the misery and woes of the students. In the mid-80s, it was very normal to see someone in their late 20s struggling to finish university.
Education was caught in a morass with hardly any solution in sight. For obvious reasons, the desperate situation had a profound impact on social ethos.
Bangladesh at that time was still grappling with post- independence austerity and the sole task of a young person after education was to get a job to look after the family.
This became almost impossible since on one hand, there was the duty to rise up to challenge an unlawful government and, on the other, the duty to look after one’s family hovered over one’s head.
Torn between the two, many young people actually left the country to pursue education overseas. Political instability affecting smooth education was the main reason which saw thousands of meritorious students leaving the country, never to come back.
Political volatility compelled students to leave country
The USA going obsession is a by-product of the 80s tumultuous socio-political scenario.
The young university student took to the streets to protest with fiery non-compromising slogans but the same person seemed vulnerable when it came to perform the duties towards a family or a lover.
Such a predicament was so widespread that it became the staple for the dramas and theatres of the period.
In most TV dramas of the time, the young man was shown to be a person with principles but without a job.
In the late 80s, at about the same time when Noor Hossain was shot and killed, the main objective of most HSC-level students were to complete education, take the Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL, get an I-20 from a university in the USA and then head for the US embassy with fervent prayers for a visa.
We do not see such desperation among the youth today. Barring a few scattered incidents, students are not dying to leave the country and since academic institutions finish the courses on time, a sense of morbid desolation hardly bothers students.
Employment was scarce, disaffection high among the youth
Let’s share a very diabolical picture of society form the 80s: unrest on the streets affecting education, Codeine-based drug 'Phensedyl' entering through the borders, high rate of unemployment plus a feeling of disillusionment among the youth.
All these vicious elements combined to create a pervasive air of frustration and, in such a situation, any young person resorting to any drug/alcohol to get temporary reprieve cannot be blamed.
Like I said earlier, even if Noor had been an addict, it was the upheaval of the period which possibly drove him and countless others to seek out some moments of solace.
In the end, what this country will remember is the day when Noor and many others like him faced the wrath of a dictator not with weapons but with their undying devotion to a set of ideals.
And for that they will be martyrs, always!
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.